At around 12:50 a.m, the phone rang. When that happens at that hour, you fear the worse. Obviously it awakened my wife. It was a call from someone who identified himself as being part of Occupy GT/People’s Parliament that was founded August last year by some brave women activists.
The caller apologized for the time of the morning, but wanted to talk about a predicament. A Minister asked the police to arrest and detain him because he simply blurted out the words, “Ya’ll gun lose de next election,” while he was standing in a crowd that the Minister was addressing.
Whether it is eight in the morning or ten in the evening, my phone would ring. A citizen would relate the usual tale of human rights violations. Whether it is police unfairness, ministerial arrogance, governmental abuse or private sector exploitation, it is the ongoing story of a country reeling from human rights abuse.
I would say that the minimum number of calls and contacts made would be five per week; sometimes less, at times more. I have no idea how many contacts people like Adam Harris, Glenn Lall, Nigel Hughes, opposition politicians, Red Thread get. But I guess they have their fill too.
Last Tuesday night, I received a plea from a Parika market vendor. She received a letter from the market committee asking her to tear down her stall, because its height is in contravention of the regulation. She claimed others are allowed the same right. She was almost in tears. I called the Region Three Chairman. He invited me to visit the market to see that the vendor is in violation. Just minutes before I spoke to her, someone from the Pomeroon rang to ask that I investigate a person who is openly selling fuel from Venezuela in Region Two, contrary to regulations, apparently competing unfairly with others. As usual, the accused is a political favourite.
This is where my problem begins. My human rights activism is going to bankrupt me if I don’t curtail it sharply. I had to return the vendor’s call. I had to make telephone contact with the Region Three Chairman. I have to travel up to Parika. Take a simple example. If that vendor had called any of the media houses, the gas and the phone bill would have been sustained by the company. If that vendor had called a human rights organization, that entity would have used organizational funds.
At the rate I go, my phone and gas bills are becoming unbearable. Just as a profit-losing business reduces expenses and staff, I have to reduce my human rights activism. It breaks my heart. This is what I am made of. This is what makes me want to live. This is what drives me. But rights activism involves the use of resources. I am very weak in that respect.
So what is my point? This is a country where a critic must be seen as exposing the State only. Once you go beyond your critiques of governmental behaviour and focus on wrongdoing in general, you become a pariah. I have written several times about the state of affairs of the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA). For my comments, I have earned the unceasing wrath of that organization’s leadership.
This is an entity that can make the work of many of us more meaningful if it would come out of its dormancy. Hardly anyone in Guyana knows about this place. It has its own offices and no doubt gets funding. But aggrieved citizens don’t go to them. They go to Adam Harris, Red Thread, Channel 6, etc. It is my deeply held academic belief that Guyana has more human rights nightmares than most countries and an organization that functions in the human rights sphere would be welcomed by the poor and powerless. But where is the GHRA?
Where is the Guyana Consumers Association (GCA)? This is a country where consumers have no rights and those who once headed the GCA owe it to the Guyanese people to at least make an effort to put it in the hands of those who care about justice for the Guyanese people.
My friend Leonard Craig of the People’s Parliament suggested that we resuscitate the GCA. But the GCA is a body affiliated to and funded by the Ministry of Trade. It is in the interest of the Government that it remains so. One of the downtown stores where customers are treated flippantly is owned by a big friend of the big ones in Government. In the meantime, sadly I have to downsize my rights activities. My pocket made that choice for me.
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